I can say with complete and utter honesty that I never thought I’d see a movie about a man being turned into a walrus, and yet, here we are. It’s late 2014 and I can now proclaim that the age-old question (is man a walrus?) has effectively been answered thanks to Kevin Smith’s latest film, “Tusk.” Yet, the biggest surprise isn’t the answer to the question stated above, but the fact that “Tusk” is actually pretty good, maybe even great.
If you’re at all familiar with Kevin Smith’s series of podcasts, titled Smodcasts, then you probably know the story behind this ridiculously insane movie. During one of their Smodcast taping session, Smith and his producer/buddy Scott Mosier came across an ad on craigslist offering a bedroom free of charge if the tenant agreed to dress as a walrus. Inspired by the absurdity of the ad and its request, Smith and Mosier spend the next hour or so spit-balling the idea that would eventually evolve into “Tusk.”
What I am trying to get at is that this film is basically all one giant inside-joke. Understandably, to some, this might be extremely frustrating and infuriating; no one likes inside jokes they aren’t a part of and no one wants to sit through a ninety-minute joke they don’t understand. That being said though, I find it hard to imagine that anyone is going to walk into a theater playing “Tusk” without the faintest inkling of what the movie entails. So, for those of you who know what to expect from “Tusk” and Kevin Smith, the fact that the films is one enormous inside joke is arguably the film’s greatest strength.
While there have been films before “Tusk” that revolve around a specific joke or parody, no other film has solely based its entire concept, plot, and characters around one single joke. Logically, this sounds like the worst idea imaginable; films aren’t meant to be jokes. Sure, comedies are supposed to make us laugh, but in most comedies, the jokes are in service to the characters and the story. With “Tusk,” it’s the complete opposite. While the story is entirely serviceable and effectively told, it’s purposefully familiar, giving Smith the room he needs to twist the conventions of an abduction horror movie to fit within the confines of his joke. Likewise, the actors aren’t there just to act, but to sell the joke, to bring the joke to life, and boy do Michael Parks and Justin Long sell the hell out of it. For the majority of the film Smith is telling a very straightforward and familiar horror film, but it’s all in service to that central joke, it always comes back to that concept of a man being turned into a walrus.
I really can’t stress enough that this film has no right to be as good as it is. Reading back that last paragraph, I feel like I just described what I usually hate about certain films. Nothing sours me to a film more than a story that’s only purpose is to string together a series of jokes, or actions scenes, or jump scares. I tend to love and respect films that focus on story above all else, and yet I found myself loving “Tusk” for exactly the opposite reasons. I loved how unfazed it was by it’s own ridiculousness, by it’s unabashed and obvious intentions, and it’s lack of typical film merits. There’s something inherently admirable about Smith’s dedication to bringing his joke to life, and it’s clear that his dedication paid off because “Tusk” is one of the craziest, most bat-shit insane experiences you can have at the theater all year.
By James Hausman